NTS plans £8m overhaul of Brodick castle

IN ITS heyday it was a grand 19th-century hunting lodge for one of Scotland’s wealthiest families and is still home to their vast art collection. Now a multi-million pound master­plan has been drawn up for Brodick Castle on Arran after it emerged it was being run at a loss of up to £450,000 a year.

Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran. Picture: Contributed

A radical overhaul of the castle and its vast grounds is planned, more than half a century after the National Trust for Scotland inherited the property from the Hamilton family, which had owned it since the early 16th century.

Although the castle holds NTS’s most significant single collection of works, the Brodick site is the biggest drain on its resources, attracting just 27,000 visitors last year.

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At least £4 million is proposed to be spent transforming offices and unused areas of the castle into new exhibition spaces charting the history of the Hamilton family, while other rooms will be turned into holiday accommodation. The top two floors are closed to the public and virtually redundant, with many parts of the collection in storage rather than on public display.

Another £4m could also be invested in a new hydro scheme which would use water running off Goat Fell, the island’s iconic mountain, both to help generate power for the area and meet running costs of the entire site. Estate cottages are to be turned into holiday accommodation.

It is hoped the Heritage Lottery Fund will back the blueprint for what will be the first signature project for NTS since a wide-ranging review encouraged the conservation charity to make more money from its key assets.

Kate Mavor, chief executive of NTS, said: “Brodick Castle, its grounds and collections, are amongst the most significant in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. Its outstanding heritage value is clear. However, it is an expensive property to run and makes a loss of around £400,000 every year. The trust simply can’t go on like this.

“Through the signature project, we are looking afresh at every possible aspect of the property so we can build, with the vital support of Arran’s community, a sustainable future for this special place – in both business and conservation terms.”

The Brodick Castle blueprint is set to radically improve the amount of space devoted to a vast Beckford art collection, inherited by the Hamiltons in the 19th century and still held intact at Brodick. It was assembled by William Beckford, whose daughter Susan married the tenth Duke of Hamilton. He had inherited, aged just ten, a family fortune from sugar plantations in Jamaica and went on to become one of Britain’s leading art collectors.

The earliest parts of the castle are thought to date back to the 13th century, when it was probably used as a defensive stronghold by the Vikings. As well as the works collected by Beckford, the castle also has a large collection of sporting pictures and trophies amassed by the tenth, 11th and 12th dukes.

Many parts of the building remain largely as they were when it was last run by Lady Mary Louise Hamilton, the only child of the 12th Duke, and her husband, the Duke of Montrose, in the 1950s.

The castle, which hosted just four weddings last year, is expected to be promoted as a flagship new venue for ceremonies and receptions under the new strategy, while new partnerships are been sought with the nearby Auchrannie resort, the island’s brewery and distillery, and local independent food producers.

Jonathan Bryant, signature project leader for NTS, said: “If Arran is Scotland in miniature, the site here at Brodick is the National Trust for Scotland in miniature. You have fantastic gardens, the built heritage of the castle and buildings on the estate, the country park, wildland areas and Goat Fell.

“Another distinguishing feature is that it’s not an endowed property, so when it was taken on there wasn’t a lump sum of money that, when invested, would produce an income to support the trust. The asset was simply passed to the nation in lieu of death duties at the time and NTS took it on.

“There is a significant operating deficit at the moment, which can vary from £250,000 a year to £450,000, depending upon the maintenance required around the estate, but clearly that is not sustainable. I’ve said previously that I thought we could get the deficit down to a maximum of £250,000 a year, but I am hopeful we may be able to balance the books longer-term.”

Sheila Gilmore, executive director of tourism agency Visit Arran, said: “Brodick Castle and its country park are an essential part of Arran as a visitor destination.

“The local staff have an excellent knowledge base and it’s great to see developments building on existing expertise. Investments to maximise the business potential will benefit not only NTS but the wider ­Arran community.”

Twitter: @brianjaffa